Ouch. That was my visceral reaction while reading the detailed description of the “Mikveh Wars” taking place in the community of Ramat Beit Shemesh. According to The Jerusalem Post, a battle is raging at the local ritual bath — a war that is a microcosm of the tension that exists in the neighborhood between the Haredi community and the religiious Zionist community.
The battle for supremacy in the divided neighborhood in which the demands of the third of the population that is Haredi are encroaching on the majority of national religious residents — a battle that has included manifestations of violence — is not news. But is this war really being fought on the unclothed bodies of Orthodox Zionist women? One such woman told the Post that the Haredi attendents, charged with the job of making sure the women are fully prepared for their ritual immersion, were being uneccesarily rough, even violent, as they performed their duties.
According to The Jerusalem Post:
[One woman] told the Post that during her last visit to the Dolev mikve, the attendant had scrubbed her elbows so hard to remove the dried skin that she was in pain for many days afterward. Other women described similar incidents, with some women leaving the establishment bleeding and in serious physical pain.
What wasn’t clear to me from the article is whether this alleged rough behavior was standard practice in Haredi mikvot, or if this treatment was the result of marching orders from rabbis to be particularly rough in order to drive away the national religious community. The latter seems unfathomable. It is a horrific thought that women would be capable of such behavior towards other women — women who entrust them with their care when they are, literally, as naked and vulnerable as they could be.
I recalled fellow Sisterhood blogger Debra Nussbaum Cohen’s reflections on her mikveh practice: “[I]t is quiet time I appreciate each month. More than that, it feels like a sanctuary, a private women’s space carved out of my busy life as a working mother to focus on my own hopes and prayers. I cherish my own mikveh observance as a space for real spiritual intimacy.”
How could one experience any of that while fearing physical injury and anticipating the drawing of blood?